Democrats hope abortion issue drives more voters to the polls

Republicans downplay the possibility, but Illinois Democrats and at least one veteran political observer believe the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will bring more pro-choice voters to the polls Nov. 8.

“Abortion is on the ballot. There’s no doubt about it,” state Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, told Illinois Times. “The ‘choice’ concern is resonating across Illinois. … Women’s reproductive rights are on the line, and we want to protect them.”

The issue is even more intense in northeastern Illinois. How the Illinois Supreme Court will rule on cases involving abortion access after the fall of Roe is a major issue in races for two open seats on the high court in newly drawn Chicago-area judicial districts outside Cook County.

The outcome could result in Democrats losing their majority on the seven-member court.

Abortion will be on the minds of downstate voters as well, according to Bill Houlihan, chairman of the Sangamon County Democratic Party. The U.S. Supreme Court decision ending the constitutional right to abortion nationwide is “going to have a gigantic effect on the Nov. 8 election,” he said.

It’s not clear how the issue will influence voters, but the Democratic Party probably will benefit because history has shown “a real pattern of winners getting complacent and losers reemerging and reorganizing,” said Christopher Mooney, professor emeritus of political science at University of Illinois Chicago.

He called the overturning of Roe “one of these seismic political events that are few and far between.”

The original Roe ruling in 1973 played a major role in the rise of the Moral Majority by Baptist minister Jerry Falwell Sr., the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the emergence of conservative activism among Catholics and evangelical Christians, Mooney said.

“It was one of the most important issues leading to the polarization we see in the political parties today,” he said.

Data from election officials throughout the state so far show that the number of vote-by-mail ballots cast by women are higher than men, and the gap between the genders is larger than in previous elections, Hernandez said. Houlihan said he is seeing the same trend in Sangamon County.

Hernandez and Houlihan said they believe this will result in more votes for pro-choice candidates.

Republicans have mostly remained silent on the implications of the Roe decision since it was issued, other than to say Democrats are advocating extreme, pro-abortion policies. Democratic messaging has remained strong, however.

The Washington Post in late October reported that Democrats have “made protecting abortion rights the central theme of their pitch to voters in the midterms, and they have spent $103 million on such ads in congressional races since Labor Day.”

Democrats hope the issue and the enthusiasm it is creating among female voters will be enough to counteract the traditional disadvantage for the party of the president in power during midterm elections, Mooney said.

Political advertising from the Democratic Party of Illinois emphasizes that GOP gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey opposes abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. Democratic mailers also say Missouri’s abortion ban could be coming to Illinois if Republican congressional candidate Regan Deering of Decatur and her supporters “get their way.”

Voters wanting to preserve Illinois’ status as a supporter of patient choice in reproductive health care – including abortion with no waiting periods or the need for parental notification – are making their wishes clear as they answer the door to candidates and volunteer for the local Democratic Party, Houlihan said.

The issue is likely to play a role in the state’s races for governor, U.S. senator, U.S. House and General Assembly, he said.

Even Democrats running for spots on the GOP-dominated Sangamon County Board could benefit, Houlihan said, especially if voters aren’t familiar with certain candidates and want to support members of a party committed to a woman’s right to choose.

Dianne Barghouti Hardwick, chairwoman of the Sangamon County Republican Central Committee, said Democrats’ focus on abortion in the county, statewide and national races could backfire because voters appear to be more concerned about the economy, inflation and crime.

Democrats hold a super-majority in the Illinois House and Senate, a lead that isn’t likely to change much this year, she said. Illinois’ liberal abortion laws aren’t likely to change anytime soon, either, she said.

Because of that, she doubts candidates’ stances on abortion will matter to Illinois voters.

Ellie Leonard, spokeswoman for Illinois Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, agreed, saying, “I think voters will see through the fear-mongering.”

But Terry Cosgrove, president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based Personal PAC, a pro-choice advocacy group, said voters can weigh multiple issues at once when casting their votes.

Houlihan said Republicans aren’t “telling the full story on the economy.”

He pointed to reductions in gasoline prices, the unemployment rate and national debt. Hernandez pointed to decisions by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, to authorize property- and income-tax rebates and a temporary suspension of the state sales tax on groceries.

The Roe decision included a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas indicating other privacy-related rights such as the right to contraception and same-sex marriage could be revisited by the court.

The decision “resonates very deeply with people,” Cosgrove said.

“People are afraid,” he said. “They don’t want to lose their access to basic health care. This is not a throwaway issue like recycling.”

Democrats’ dominance in the legislature notwithstanding, Cosgrove said a Republican-majority on the Illinois Supreme Court could make abortion illegal by striking down the state’s Reproductive Health Act, which strengthened abortion protections in 2019, and invalidate a 2017 state law requiring Illinois to cover abortions for Medicaid recipients.

If Republicans gain control of Congress, they could pass national restrictions or a ban on abortions, he said.

Moreover, Republican victories in Illinois could lead to eventual Republican control of the Illinois House, Senate and governor’s office, which happened in the mid-1990s, Cosgrove said.

A political mailer paid for by a campaign fund controlled by Houlihan, a member of the state’s Democratic State Central Committee, depicts a chicken slowly being plucked of its feathers.

“Extremist MAGA Republicans are plotting to ‘pluck away’ our constitutional rights one at a time, hoping we won’t notice,” the mailer says. Among those rights, the mailer lists “a woman’s right to choose in all cases.”

About The Author

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:, 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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